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   Criteria I - Principles & Philos of  Accreditation 
I.  SACS Self-Study:
   A. Manual
   B. Calendar
   C. Committees and Roles
   D. Editorial Guidelines
   E. News, Events, and Presentations
   F. Report

II. Contact Info

III. SACS Criteria Listed and Numbered

IV. SACS Handbook for Peer Evaluators

V. Compliance Audits
   A. Instructions
   B. Criteria Audits
   C. Institutional Effectiveness Audit

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 The Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is the recognized regional accrediting body in the eleven U.S. Southern states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia) and in Latin America for those institutions of higher education that award associate, baccalaureate, master's or doctoral degrees. The Commission on Colleges is the representative body of the College Delegate Assembly and is charged with carrying out the accreditation process. The College Delegate Assembly, which consists of one voting representative for each of approximately 800 member institutions, elects the 77-member Commission. The U.S. Secretary of Education recognizes accreditation by the Commission on Colleges in establishing eligibility of higher education institutions to participate in programs authorized under Title IV of the 1992 Higher Education Amendments and other federal programs.

Accreditation is concerned principally with the improvement of educational quality throughout the region and ensuring to the public that institutions meet established regional standards. Accreditation of an institution by the Commission on Colleges signifies that the institution has a purpose appropriate to higher education and has resources, programs and services sufficient to accomplish its purpose on a continuing basis.

Accreditation by the Commission on Colleges is the result of thorough and careful evaluation of the educational quality of the institution. This qualitative evaluation depends heavily on the collective professional judgment of the faculty and administrative staff of the institution during the self-study process, peer review by a visiting committee, and final evaluation by the Commission. Professional judgment in the peer review process goes beyond a simple compliance audit of the minimum requirements in the Criteria and provides for quality assurance in accreditation.

The task of accreditation is related to the traditional public philosophy of the United States-that a free people can and ought to govern themselves and that they best do so through a representative, flexible and responsive system. Accordingly, the purposes of accreditation can best be accomplished through a voluntary association of educational institutions.

There are many issues to be considered at the regional level that might not be resolved as effectively in a state or national association. This does not in any way limit cooperation and exchange of ideas with other regional and professional accrediting associations which are largely parallel in aims and functions.

Regional accrediting agencies accredit the total institution. The accreditation of professional schools, divisions, departments or programs within complex institutions may be provided by other accrediting organizations. However. it is the responsibility of the Commission on Colleges to evaluate the work of specialized schools, divisions, departments or programs, even though they are accredited by the appropriate professional agencies. It is the prerogative of the Commission to accept or reject the evaluations of such agencies.

The Commission on Colleges supports the right of an institution to pursue its established educational purpose; the right of faculty members to teach, investigate and publish freely; and the right of students to have opportunities for learning. However, the exercise of these rights must not interfere with the overriding obligation of the institution to offer its students a sound education leading to recognized certificates or degrees. Thus, criteria and procedures for accreditation have been developed which are used in evaluating an institution's educational effectiveness, defined in the broadest sense to include not only instruction, but also effectiveness in research and public service where these are significant components of an institution's purpose.

Initially and periodically, each member institution is required to conduct a self-study, which is subsequently evaluated at the institution by a committee of peer educators. This requirement helps ensure that an institution meets established standards of quality and that it evaluates the extent to which its educational goals are being met. The successful fulfillment of this requirement, along with demonstrated compliance with the Criteria for Accreditation and the Conditions of Eligibility, results in initial accreditation or reaffirmation of accreditation.

The self-study program, begun by the Commission on Colleges in 1957, has proven successful in strengthening higher education in the South. Once each decade, member institutions, accredited by the Commission, conduct comprehensive self-examinations from which are formulated recommendations for future improvements. The studies involve participation by the faculty, administrative officers, staff, students and trustees in a close examination of the institution. At the culmination of the study, a visiting committee of peers from other institutions assesses the educational strength of the institution. The self-study and subsequent visiting committee evaluation rely on the qualitative judgment of professionals in the higher education community.

The Commission on Colleges is particularly concerned with follow-up procedures and often requires a progress report resulting from the self-study and committee visit. The Commission reserves the right, with due notification to institutions involved, to make special studies of and visits to member institutions when circumstances warrant. During the interval between reaffirmation committee visits to each institution which provides vocational education or training, the Commission will make at least one unannounced on-site inspection for the purpose of determining whether the institution has the personnel, facilities, and resources it claimed to have either during its previous on-site review or in subsequent reports to the Commission.

Accreditation is specific to an institution, is based on conditions existing at the time of the most recent evaluation, and is not transferable. When an institution changes the nature of its affiliation or its ownership, a substantive change review is required. (See Commission policy and procedure documents pertaining to substantive changes.)

The Commission's philosophy of accreditation precludes denial of membership to a degree-granting institution of higher education on any ground other than, in the professional judgment of peer reviewers, failure to conduct an acceptable self-study, failure to meet the Conditions of Eligibility, failure to comply with the Criteria for Accreditation established by the College Delegate Assembly, or failure to comply with the policies and procedures of the Commission. The Commission on Colleges applies the Criteria uniformly to applicant, candidate and member institutions regardless of type of institution.

In accordance with the procedures described in the Commission policy entitled "Appeals Procedures of the College Delegate Assembly," when an institution has grounds for appeal in the accreditation process, the chief executive officer of the institution may submit to the Executive Director a request for an appeal. The Executive Director will then arrange for a hearing according to established appeals procedures.

 1.1 Institutional Commitment and Responsibilities in the Accreditation Process

 The effectiveness of self-regulatory accreditation depends upon an institution's acceptance of certain responsibilities, including involvement in and commitment to the accreditation process.

1.1.1 An institution is required to conduct a self-study at the interval specified by the Commission and, at the conclusion of the self-study, accept an honest and forthright peer assessment of institutional strengths and weaknesses.

1.1.2 The Commission requires that the self-study assess every aspect of the institution; involve personnel from all segments of the institution, including faculty, staff, students, administration and governing boards; and provide a comprehensive analysis of the institution, identifying strengths and weaknesses. In addition, the Commission requires an adequate institutional follow-up plan to address issues identified in the self-study.

1.1.3 An institution must be committed to participation in the activities and decisions of the Commission. This commitment includes a willingness to participate in the decision-making processes of the Commission and adherence to all policies and procedures, including those for reporting changes within the institution. Only if institutions accept seriously the responsibilities of membership will the validity and vitality of the accreditation process be ensured.

1.1.4 An institution of higher education is committed to the search for knowledge and its dissemination.

1.1.5 Integrity in the pursuit of knowledge is expected to govern the total environment of an institution.

1.1.6 Each member institution is responsible for ensuring integrity in all operations dealing with its constituencies, in its relations with other member institutions, and in its accreditation activities with the Commission on Colleges.

1.1.7 Each institution must provide the Commission access to all parts of its operation and to complete and accurate information about the institution's affairs, including reports of other accrediting, licensing and auditing agencies.

1.1.8 In the spirit of collegiality, institutions are expected to cooperate fully during all aspects of the process of evaluation: preparations for site visits, the site visit itself, and the follow up to the site visit.

1.1.9 Institutions are also expected to provide the Commission or its representatives with information requested and to maintain an atmosphere of openness and cooperation during evaluations, enabling evaluators to perform their duties with maximum efficiency and effectiveness.

1.1.10 Each participating institution must be in compliance with its program responsibilities under Title IV of the 1992 Higher Education Amendments. Failure to comply with Title IV responsibilities will be considered when an institution is reviewed for initial membership or continued accreditation. In reviewing an institution's compliance with these program responsibilities, the Commission will rely on documentation forwarded to it by the Secretary of Education.

1.1.11 Each institution seeking candidacy, membership or reaffirmation with the Commission on Colleges must document its compliance with the Conditions of Eligibility as outlined in Section 1.4.

1.2 Application of the Criteria

The Criteria for Accreditation applies to all institutional programs and services wherever located or however delivered. It is designed to guide institutions in all stages of membership?from initial application through initial accreditation or reaffirmation of accreditation. Compliance with the Criteria for Accreditation is intended to help an institution achieve overall effectiveness and to ensure the quality of its educational programs. The Commission on Colleges shall apply the Criteria to all applicant. candidate and member institutions regardless of type of institution, whether for-profit, not-for-profit, private or public. The Commission grants or reaffirms accreditation only to institutions which comply with the Criteria.

1.2.1 An institution must refrain from making a substantive change, defined as a significant modification in the nature or scope of an institution or its programs, except in accordance with the Commission's "General Substantive Change Policy for Accredited Institutions" and its attendant procedures.

 1.2.2 All existing or planned activities must be reported according to the policies, procedures and guidelines of the Commission on Colleges and must be in compliance with the Criteria. If an institution fails to follow the procedures outlined in the above policy, its total accreditation will be placed in jeopardy.

 The Commission on Colleges takes no position on collective bargaining agreements, neither encouraging nor discouraging them. When an institution's purpose, policies or procedures are modified by collective bargaining agreements, the modifications do not affect the application of the Criteria, the self-study, the evaluation, or the reporting processes. The impact of a collective bargaining agreement will be included in the accreditation process when appropriate. When accreditation-related recommendations or suggestions are sent to an institution, they are intended to strengthen the total institution, not to influence collective bargaining negotiations.

The Commission on Colleges maintains a policy and procedure for considering formal complaints regarding member or candidate institutions. (See Commission policy statement "Complaints Against Institutions").

1.2.3 Each institution must have adequate procedures for addressing written student complaints.

The Commission evaluates not only compliance with specific criteria but also the effectiveness of the institution as a whole and the environment in which teaching and learning occurs. Assessment of the overall effectiveness of an institution derived through the peer evaluation process, rather than simple compliance with specific criteria, shall be an overriding factor in the Commission's determination of whether to confer, or to continue, the accredited status of an institution. While peer evaluators representing the Commission must apply professional judgment in assessing compliance with the Criteria and assessing overall effectiveness, the final interpretation of the Criteria rests with the Commission.

1.3 Separately Accredited Units

Accreditation of an institution includes all of its units wherever located. A unit of an institution may be separately accredited if a significant portion of responsibility and decision-making authority for its educational activities lies within the unit and not in other units of the institution or system.

It is the responsibility of the Commission on Colleges to determine, following consultation with the chief executive officer of the institution, whether the institution will be considered for accreditation as a whole or whether its units will be considered for separate accreditation, and how the evaluation will be conducted. A unit of an institution or system is eligible for separate accreditation if it is evident that it has a significant degree of autonomy and possesses the attributes which will enable it to comply with the requirements of the Criteria for Accreditation. A unit is required to apply for separate accreditation or to maintain separate membership if, in the judgment of the Commission, the unit exercises this level of autonomy.

If an institution seeks separately accredited status for one of its units, it must notify the Executive Director of the Commission on Colleges of its intent and follow procedures established by the Commission. In all cases, the Commission on Colleges reserves the right to determine the accreditation status of separate units of an institution.

1.4 Conditions of Eligibility

1.4.1 Any institution seeking candidacy must document its compliance with each of the thirteen Conditions of Eligibility to be authorized initiation of a self-study, or to be awarded candidacy or candidacy renewal.

1.4.2 In addition, the institution must provide evidence that it is capable of complying with all requirements of the Criteria and that it will be in compliance by the end of the period allowed for candidacy.

1.4.3 The Conditions of Eligibility are basic qualifications which an institution of higher education must meet to be accredited by the Commission on Colleges. They establish a threshold of development required of an institution seeking initial or continued accreditation by the Commission and reflect the Commission's basic expectations of candidate and member institutions.

1.4.4 Compliance with the Conditions is not sufficient to warrant accreditation or reaffirmation of accreditation. Accredited institutions must also demonstrate compliance with the Criteria for Accreditation which holds institutions to appropriately higher standards of quality. In obtaining or maintaining accreditation with the Commission on Colleges, an institution agrees to the following:

    a. That it will comply with the Criteria for Accreditation of the College Delegate Assembly consistent with the policies and procedures of the Commission on Colleges.

    b. That the Commission on Colleges, at its discretion, may make known to any agency or member of the public requiring such information, the nature of any action, positive or negative, regarding the institution's status with the Commission.
    c. That it will comply with Commission requests, directives, decisions and policies, and will make complete, accurate and honest disclosure. Failure to do so is sufficient reason, in and of itself, for the Commission to impose a sanction, or to deny or revoke candidacy or accreditation. The institution must have formal authority from an appropriate government agency or agencies located within the geographic jurisdiction of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award degrees. The institution must have a governing board of at least five members, which has the authority and duty to ensure that the mission of the institution is implemented. The governing board is the legal body responsible for the institution. Evidence must be provided that the board is an active policy-making body for the institution. The board is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the financial resources of the institution are used to provide a sound educational program. The board must not be controlled by a minority of board members or by organizations or interests separate from the board. The presiding officer of the board must have no contractual, employment, or personal or familial financial interest in the institution. The majority of the other voting members must have no contractual, employment, or personal or familial financial interest in the institution. The bylaws of the board or other legal documents must ensure appropriate continuity in the board membership, usually by staggered terms of adequate length. The bylaws or other legal documents must ensure the independence of the board. Amendment of the bylaws must occur only by vote of the board after reasonable deliberation. The institution must have a chief executive officer whose primary responsibility is to the institution. The chief executive officer must not be the presiding officer of the board. The institution must be in operation and have students enrolled in degree programs at the time of the committee visit. The institution must offer one or more degree programs based on at least two academic years at the associate level, at least four academic years at the baccalaureate level, or at least one academic year at the post-baccalaureate level. The institution may make arrangements for some instruction to be provided by other accredited institutions or entities through contracts or consortia.  However, the institution itself must provide instruction for all coursework required for at least one degree program at each level at which it awards degrees.  Any alternative approach to meeting this requirement must be approved by the Commission on Colleges. In all cases, the institution must be able to demonstrate that it evaluates all aspects of its educational programs. The institution's degree programs must be compatible with its stated purpose and based upon fields of study appropriate to higher education. Institutions may experiment in developing and defining new fields of study, but the Commission cannot evaluate for membership an institution that offers only programs which represent fields of study that are outside of the expertise of the Commission's accredited institutions. The institution must have a clearly defined, published statement of purpose appropriate to an institution of higher education. The institution must have an appropriate plan, as well as a functioning planning and evaluation process, which identifies and integrates projected educational, physical and financial development, and incorporates procedures for program review and institutional improvement. The institution must have published admission policies compatible with its stated purpose. All undergraduate degree programs of the institution must include a substantial component of general education courses at the collegiate level. For degree completion in associate programs, the component must constitute a minimum of 15 semester hours or equivalent quarter hours and for baccalaureate programs, a minimum of 30 semester hours or equivalent quarter hours. The credit hours must be drawn from each of the following areas: humanities/fine arts, social/behavioral sciences, and natural sciences/mathematics. The courses must be designed to ensure breadth of knowledge and must not be narrowly focused on those skills, techniques and procedures peculiar to a particular occupation or profession. The number of full-time faculty members must be adequate to provide effective teaching, advising and scholarly or creative activity. In each major in a degree program, there must be at least one full-time faculty member with responsibility for supervision and coordination of the major. In those degree programs for which the institution does not identify a major, this requirement applies to a curricular area or concentration. The institution must have sufficient learning resources or, through formal agreements or appropriate technology, ensure the provision of and ready access to adequate learning resources and services to support the courses, programs and degrees offered. The institution must have an adequate financial base to accomplish its purpose at an acceptable level of quality on a continuing basis. The institution must provide financial statements and related documents (as specified in Section 6.3.6) which accurately and appropriately represent the total operation of the institution. An institution, whether a part of a system or not, which is seeking initial candidacy for membership, candidacy renewal or initial membership, must include in its application separate institutional audits and management letters for its three most recent fiscal years, including that for the fiscal year ending immediately prior to the date of the submission of the application. Further, it must have available the audit and management letter for the most recent fiscal year ending immediately prior to any committee visit for candidacy, candidacy renewal, or initial membership. These audits must be conducted by independent certified public accountants or an appropriate governmental auditing agency. An applicant or candidate institution must not show an annual or cumulative operating deficit at any time during the application process or at any time during candidacy.

1.5 Initial Membership

 An institution seeking initial membership (accreditation), in addition to fulfilling requirements outlined in the Criteria, must document its compliance with all Conditions of Eligibility and have been in operation  i.e., have, without interruption, enrolled students in degree programs, through at least one complete degree program cycle and have graduated at least one class at the level of the highest degree offered prior to action by the Commission on Colleges.

 1.6 Representation of Status

 An institution must be accurate in reporting to the public its status and relationship with the Commission. In catalogs, brochures and advertisements a member institution must describe its relationship with the Commission only according to the following statement:

(Name of institution) is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097: Telephone number 404-679-4500) to award (name specific degree levels).

For institutions in Candidacy status:

(Name of institution) is a Candidate for Accreditation with the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (1866 Southern Lane. Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097: Telephone number 404-679-4500) to award (name specific degree levels).

(Note: Effective January 1996, candidacy for substantive change will no longer be a Commission status, except for those institutions currently candidates at a new degree levels. Therefore, member institutions which are current candidates at new degree levels must continue to use the following statement:

(Name of institution) is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097: Telephone number 404-679-4500) to award (name specific degree levels) and is a Candidate for Accreditation to award the (name specific degree level).

No statement may be made about possible future accreditation status with the Commission on Colleges. The logo or seal of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools must not be used by the institution.

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